Feeding your kitten
Your newborn kitten has a lot of growing to do before adult hood. A kitten grows rapidly in the first six months of his / her life, developing 75% of adult body weight. A kitten’s body has to manufacture muscle, bone, hair, teeth and a fully developed immune system. So it is not at all surprising that they’re going to need the highest quality nutrition and plenty of itto reach adult hood.
Kittens are full of curiosity about the world around them and need lots of energy to explore. A specially formulated kitten food will contain abundant protein to support healthy tissue and organ development, and higher levels of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and iron to help them build strong bones and teeth. Cats also have a unique requirement for taurine , an essential amino acid that promotes a healthy heart and vision. Kittens also have smaller mouths than adult cats. The smaller kibbles in most manufactured kitten foods will make it easier for them to chew and release all the essential nutrients.
Weaning your kittens
Of course, mother’s milk makes the ideal first food for every kitten and is naturally rich in everything they need, especially the building blocks for their own natural defences. But although they won’t be ready for weaning until they are between six and eight weeks old, most kittens will start to nibble solid foods at three or four weeks. This is the best time to start offering a specially formulated kitten food – wet or dry. If you choose a dry food, it should be moistened and mashed. With less adventurous kittens, you may need to spread a small amount their lips to encourage them to give it a try. Don’t be tempted to wean too early. Switching to solid food too soon can be damaging for a kitten’s immature tummy. Start with about a tablespoonful five times a day, and adjust if your kitten is leaving food in the bowl or is still hungry. Throughout the process they will inevitably supplement their food with mother’s milk. Kittens generally know how much they need, whilst the mother will soon make it clear if she thinks her kittens have had enough milk! As at all ages, a kitten requires a frequent supply of fresh water from a clean ceramic bowl. Commercial kitten milk is a food and not a replacement for water, so if you decide to feed kitten milk remember to adjust the quantity of their food accordingly.
Kittens have small stomachs but large appetites, so feed small amounts on a frequent basis. This should suit your kitten’s eating habits as well.
Initially, your kitten will eat at least four meals a day. This provides a steady source of fuel throughout the day. If you are unable to accommodate this feeding regime, feed three times a day but also leave a little dry food out as a snack for the day.
As kittens get older, gradually reduce their feeding to three meals a day and then, by six months old, to two meals a day.
Cats are natural ‘grazers’. They do not adapt well to eating just one meal a day, as some dogs do.
Cats prefer food that is fed at room temperature, so it’s better not to feed wet food direct from the fridge. Leave it to warm up a bit before serving.
By the time they reach 10-12 weeks the transition to solid food should be complete.
What to feed?
There are many types of cat food on the market – from pouches, foil trays and tinned food to dry complete varieties. You’ll also find treats, some with proven tartar control to help look after your cat’s teeth. Ultimately whether you serve wet or dry is a matter of personal preference, yours and your cat’s.
Dry complete diets have some specific selling points. They help to remove plaque from the teeth, and there is no fuss – you just weigh out the amount you need and put it in your cat’s dish for her to help herself. It is clean to use, easy to store, and has a longer shelf-life once opened than wet food.
But some cats prefer wet food’s aroma and texture, and wet can still be very convenient with the new single serve pouches ensuring a fresh, easy to serve meal each time.
For the first couple of weeks of settling in your new kitten, you should stick to the same brand of kitten food recommended by the breeder or rescue centre, unless there is an obvious problem. Change is stressful, and a diet change at the same time as coping with a new home, can cause tummy upsets in a youngster. If you want to change your kitten’s diet after a couple of weeks, you should do so gradually.
Put a little of the new food in with the current food and mix it all together.
Over the course of seven to ten days, gradually increase the amount of new food added, whilst reducing the amount of the former food until a complete change over has been made.
Moving on to adult food
Even though most cats look fully-grown by six months, they’re still kittens on the inside. Their bones are becoming stronger and their bodies filling out. Kittens shouldn’t transfer to a commercially produced adult food until they are 12 months old. This should be done gradually, again to avoid stomach upsets.
Fresh water – not milk
Make sure fresh drinking water is always available for your kitten, but don’t give cow’s milk. Contrary to popular belief, cow’s milk isn’t good for cats as most cats lose the ability to digest lactose shortly after weaning. Only feed specially formulated ‘cat milk’ and check that it is suitable for kittens, as some are designed for adult cats only.
Unlike dogs, who can live quite happily on a balanced vegetarian diet, cats will go blind, suffer other debilitating conditions and ultimately die if fed on a vegetarian diet. Cats are obligate carnivores – meaning they must eat meat to survive!
Kittens are generally straightforward where eating is concerned and most will happily eat whatever they are offered. However, some can develop food fads and even addictions as they get older. A lack of a varied diet throughout can lead to fussy eating, so it’s worthwhile getting your cat used to eating many different flavours of food and, occasionally, different types of food early on. If you only feed one type or flavour throughout their life, you can encounter problems if that food is discontinued or if a health complaint dictates a change of diet.
If your cat looks decidedly unimpressed when you put down some food, don’t be put off and replace it with something else (especially fresh chicken, prawns, and other ‘human’ food). Cats are clever and will soon realise that they can dictate what you bring them.
If your cat goes off food for more than 24 hours, or you notice other unusual signs of ill health, consult your vet.